LeafSpring

Welcome to LeafSpring, an anonymized advice blog by a group of scientists on the tenure track. Send your questions to leafspring.labcarpentry@gmail.com


Jan 03, 2017

When (and how) to move.

Dear LeafSpring,

I'm trying to decide whether to look for jobs elsewhere, or stay in my current job. Do you have any advice on when and how to think about moving institutions?

On The Move


Dear OTM,

There are any number of reasons why you might want to move. Even applying for other jobs can be a lot of work and the process should be approached with care. Changing institutions is a tremendous amount of work so the new situation should be clearly better than the old!

We feel that loyalty is owed to friends and colleagues, not institutions. Friends and colleagues will often understand your motivation, particularly if you explain why you are trying to leave. They can be valuable allies in retention. Our experience is that institutions will try to use loyalty as a cheap way to retain you. It is probably worth critically thinking about how far their loyalty would extend if your funding lapsed - generally the answer is, not terribly far.

Some of the reasons we've seen for moving, or trying to move, are:

  • Family or location issues (two body challenges, etc.). Maybe your family is unhappy with your location, your partner can't find a job, or there are legal restrictions that affect you. Many academic institutions are in communities that are somewhat isolated and it can be hard to find opportunities for spouses there. We've also seen situations where same sex partners made a family decision to leave a location because of the hostility of state laws to child adoption and family rights.

  • Resource issues. Perhaps the resources that you need to be successful are not being provided, which is preventing you from getting your work done. Problems may include a lack of lab space, access to core facilities, teaching obligations, etc. Looking for a better situation may end up prying loose necessary resources in a competitive environment. It may also help the chair/dean/etc pry loose those resources for you.

  • Tenure. You may want to go up for tenure early, or provide yourself with an alternative if you don't get tenure. Most places will seriously negotiate about tenure as part of a retention, especially if an equally strong or stronger department is offering you tenure on the other side. On the one hand, tenure is inexpensive to provide in the immediate term. On the other hand tenure can be administratively tricky with lots of rules involved. Changes cannot always be easily guaranteed. For example, one of us took an external offer with the expectation, but no guarantee, of tenure. That scientist did subsequently receive it; but was informed that if tenure wasn't granted, they could renege and not move.

  • Pay. If you feel that your current compensation (often pay, but potentially benefits, salary coverage, or other factors) is not competitive with what you would earn elsewhere, you could look for new positions. Salary changes are a standard part of many retention packages or external offers. Other factors (benefits, salary coverage expectations) may be substantially more difficult to negotiate. Many universities have programs that are available to faculty to help with specific challenges. It may be possible to negotiate for specific benefits that are important to you. However, this can be challenging so a dollar figure on salary that is equivalent may be easier to achieve.

  • Environment. Sometimes the environment in your current institution is problematic and sometimes there are exciting things happening at a different institution that make it more appealing. If you're working in a negative environment consider the fact that it is rare for environments to improve quickly, so the best thing to do may be to consider leaving. If you're feeling undervalued, try to talk positively about what you want to achieve in the future. It may be helpful to talk with your department chair/dean/etc and present yourself as if you were applying for a job as future you. Explain what you would like to achieve at your current institution. The chair/dean/etc's reaction to this may help you determine if you need to move, or if your goals are achievable where you already are. Sometimes environment is a positive reason for a move. One of us recently moved not because there was anything wrong at their old university, but because a different university was building exciting new programs in their areas of interest. This made the new environment more exciting with lots of potential for interesting colleagues, seminars, and collaborations.

  • Responsibility. Maybe you want more or different responsibilities. Perhaps you have learned that there is a particular aspect of your job that you don't get to pursue at your current position. Maybe you want a leadership position. Maybe you want to run a core facility, or maybe you do now but don't want to continue running one. Whatever the reason, a move may provide opportunities to change responsibilities.

  • Fit. Maybe you were hired at your institution for what you, and they, thought you'd do, but time has passed and that has changed. In addition to responsibilities, maybe your research program changed and you are now a better fit for a different department/institution/colleagues.

  • Change. Maybe you just want a change!


We suggest that if you want to move, you take the following three steps:

  • Say yes to invitations to speak. This is particularly true if you are invited to a place that you might like to move. These trips can lead to offers. Sometimes, you'll meet with someone and they will offer the opportunity to move outright. Other times, you might be meeting with the relevant department chair, dean, etc and you can ask about their hiring plans in your area. If you think that you might like to move, you may want to ask specifically about your suitability for such a position. In some cases an invitation to speak can even be an intentional move to pursue a hire. One of us moved after being invited to give a seminar, and we were later informed that it was actually more of a pre-interview.

  • If you have trusted friends at other institutions, you may want to tell them of your interest in moving and why. In combination with the previous point, this may lead to seminar invitations at goal institutions. Also, when they hear about opportunities at their own institution or in the field at large, they may either bring them to your attention or put your name forward. Some of us have previously recommended others, who we knew were looking for positions, to hiring committees. This may lead the committee to invite you, even if you don't apply.

  • Apply elsewhere. This is the easiest way to let a hiring committee know that you are interested in a position. It is a lot of work to send out applications again, but for a major environment change it may be worth it.

We are of different minds about whether or not to keep applying for new jobs a secret. In good environments if a department chair/dean/etc wants to retain you, they will actively look to keep you happy. However, in less positive environments it is possible that administrators or colleagues will be unhappy that you are considering leaving with potentially negative consequences. Of course you won't be able to keep being on the market a secret forever, so you will have to weigh the risks and benefits to decide when to share this with administrators, colleagues, and lab members.

If your leadership knows that you are considering other opportunities, they have probably already done some leg work to prepare. They may be able to get a retention package together in a couple weeks. If your request blindsides them, they may need a few weeks, if not a month, to do so. Your prospective new institution will of course be pushing you to decide to go there, so timing may become critical. As soon as you make it known that you have an offer somewhere else, you should expect the fact to spread. Your lab will probably hear about it. In our experience uncertainty is stressful for everyone involved, and it doesn't help (and may hurt) to try to keep it secret.


Once you have identified one or more opportunities and have received an invitation:

  1. Go on interviews & hope for an offer.
  2. Once you get some concrete idea of what the offer will be, bring it back to your current department chair. If you have any interest in staying, prepare to discuss what you need to stay at your current institution.
  3. When negotiating, make it clear what you're negotiating for and why. Asking for more resources without explaining what you want to do with them may make it harder for an institution to provide them to you. This can be specific to each institution (for example, some institutions have free compute clusters, others don't; so for the first type, you can simply negotiate access; for the latter, you need think about what compute you need and how much). If you explain why, then it helps the people at the institution justify the request up the chain to their chair, dean, etc.

When negotiating for retention, remember that:

  • Misunderstandings rule. Don't assume everyone (or even anyone) is talking to each other. We've seen situations where the chairs and the deans were thinking completely different things from each other, and not being honest about it.

  • Retention will be dependent on the personality and relationships and interactions of the chair, dean, etc. involved. Of course, if they seem unable to coordinate on retaining you, that might be a sign that you'd be better off elsewhere.

  • Your retention may be more generous if a lot of people have left recently. A large number of departures without corresponding hires can make a department or institution look bad. Alternatively, many departures may indicate that your institution is not in a financial position to match outside offers.


Moving is costly for everyone involved. Think about your current students, postdocs, and techs; your family; hiring new people at the new location to replace people who did not move; figuring out new admin situations, hiring and buying rules; etc. Consider how you can make this time less stressful for your team. Some of us have negotiated for moving expenses for our lab members as well as ourselves. Moving is also an opportunity to revisit the compensation that your team receives. It may be easier to give team members a raise during a move.

Whenever you take a specific external offer to your current leadership to negotiate over, make sure you're serious about your willingness to take it. We would advise you to never bluff over an offer that you wouldn't accept. This can burn many bridges, even outside of your institution!

Finally, OTM, we've got some questions for the audience as well. What situations apply for moving into a more senior or administrative position? Are there any additional tips that we should be offering? Feel free to reply in the comments, or submit your thoughts to leafspring.labcarpentry@gmail.com and we will put them into a new post without naming you.

More reading

Yikes! Your advisor is moving to another institution. Now what?, by Rosa Li. Read this to understand what your students are thinking!

Applying for jobs when you have a job, by hashb8ng. Some good specific advice for dealing with a two-body problem, among other things.

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Nov 08, 2016

LeafSpring contributors, November 2016.

LeafSpring is an anonymized advice blog written by a group of scientists. But it's important to note that not all posts are written by all authors, and not all authors approve of all posts. As authors, we don't endorse all of the opinions in any response posted by the collective. Some authors have elected to make their participation in this effort public, and are listed below.

Finally, a subset of posts may be posted by individual authors. These are labeled by the author that contributed the post.

With that aside, the current set of contributors includes but is not limited to:

Sincerely, The LeafSpring Team

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Sep 08, 2016

How do I foster a supportive lab family?

Dear Leafspring,

Some of the best times I had as a trainee were when I felt part of a ‘lab family’. How do I foster a fun, social and supportive atmosphere in my own year-old, small (me + 2 grad students), but growing (2 more students next year, hopefully a postdoc) group without coming across as inappropriate/overly friendly/trying to force things?

Yours, Trying to be professional

P.S. This was inspired by this blog post: http://lettersfromgradschool.org/dont-check-your-optimism-at-the-door/


Dear TTBP,

We had a number of thoughts on thinking about a lab as a family. While this seems like a nice idea, we had some concerns that a family might not be precisely the right metaphor. Perhaps thinking of a lab as a team, which still has camaraderie and is acting with a shared purpose, would be a better fit. This puts you in the role of a team captain and/or coach. So how can you encourage teambuilding without harming your ability to lead?

There are a number of steps that we recommend to make sure that your social and work environments are places that are safe and friendly.

  • Keep lab events low- or alcohol free.
  • Post a code of conduct and make it clear that you take it seriously.
  • This isn't always possible depending on circumstances, but many events - particularly those outside of work hours - should be open to family, friends and partners.
  • Make it clear when events are optional and make sure that most events outside of work hours are optional.

There are some group-building opportunities that work well for small groups:

  • For social outings, find partner labs that work on similar things (or have similar attitudes) and invite both groups. This may involve some administrative headaches - e.g. PIs taking turns paying or splitting costs fractionally.
  • Cultivate a social media presence (a shared blog or some such) so that people can present a team perspective.
  • Make it clear that members of the lab and partners/families are a part of the team.
  • Try to get together regularly for social interactions during work hours. Some of us do a 'fika' and others the bonus.ly service for peer recognition to schedule during-work social interactions.
  • Organize events that go beyond the confines of the lab. Perhaps lab outings for hikes, etc. Make it clear that you're looking for events that more people can participate in, and consider whether or not everyone can participate in what you're planning.

Here are some social outings that we've done before:

  • Happy hour - PI pays for appetizers and one drink for each individual (non-transferrable).
  • Lunch at a nearby restaurant.
  • Group hike.
  • Group paintball. This can sting - make sure people know what they are getting into.
  • A board game night. PI may or may not provide a 'grant' for food ($20 cash) if the lab requests it for a game night once a month. Consider carefully whether or not you want to attend. Not attending may give the team time to bond without your presence.
  • Group attendance at a local sports team game.
  • Picnic lunch at a local park.

Finally we have a few communication recommendations:

  • Keep an in-lab list that has some non-work rooms for chatting. Some of us use Slack for this which provides a #random channel, while others use email.
  • Be aware of authority barriers and decide what you want to do about them. Do you want to keep an edge of formality going, or do you want to lower those barriers? It will depend on where the barriers and authority levels stand now and where you want them to be :).
  • Discuss your own job with your team. Outline your thoughts on grants and papers and discuss your larger concerns and worries. You don't have to be an impervious leader standing against the world. You can be human too.
  • When you have to provide negative performance feedback, do so in a formal as opposed to social setting. Make sure that you communicate that the discussion is solely about work and not personal.

So TTBP, we believe thinking of the group as a team instead of a family is a more useful metaphor. We hope these ideas help you create an environment that brings your team together.

Sincerely, Leafspring

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Aug 17, 2016

How can preprints help my career?

Dear Leafspring,

I see discussion from senior biologists about the benefits of preprints. As a faculty member just starting my lab in a biological science, will preprints help me or hurt me?

Unsure on Preprints


Dear UP,

We can't tell you yet if preprints will help your career or harm it. We do think that there are substantial benefits to preprints in the overall process of science. We'll initially cover some baseline information about preprints, and then we'll talk about how, in our own experience, a new lab can maximize their benefits from the preprints that they post.

Why are preprints coming on to the scene now in biology?

  • Problem: The publication process today takes longer now than ever before with an increase in the number of supplemental figures, supplemental figure panels and number of authors included per manuscript. This slows the communication of data, increases time required for training and delays evidence of productivity required for grants/promotion.
  • Solution: Preprints are manuscripts posted for free on servers with open access for the world-wide scientific community and the public. They are given a digital object identifier (DOI) and are citable.
  • History: The arXiv (pronounced archive) is a preprint server for the Physics, Mathematics and quantitative science communities started in 1991 by Paul Ginsparg. It has long been in use in these communities for the rapid communication of scientific articles along side traditional journal publication. Additional preprint servers have been developed more recently to serve the life sciences such as Peer J Preprints, F1000 Research and the BioRxiv.

What are some benefits of preprints?

  1. In career advancement, training, and education:

    • A manuscript simultaneously submitted to a preprint server and submitted to a journal can gain visibility and feedback from the scientific community during the time required for journals to receive reviews from referees.
    • The increased visibility of preprints can lead to invitations for seminars and conferences earlier than if communication is delayed until a peer reviewed publication is available.
    • Publishing a preprint on a community-recognized public server can establish priority for a discovery.
    • Preprints can provide evidence of productivity to complete training, for hiring/promotion and in funding applications; note that preprints are usually found automatically by Google Scholar and can also be placed on BioSketches, so they can be part of your official record.
    • Authors report increased feedback on their preprinted work.
    • Authors report being approached by journal editors to submit preprints for journal consideration.
  2. For funders, journals, servers, and tool-builders:

    • Preprints are immediately open access and therefore can enhance the impact of funded science.
    • Funding agencies can judge productivity more effectively with preprints than when researchers go through different processes in manuscript submission and revision.
    • Increasingly, journals are allowing submission of manuscripts previously posted as preprints. Some examples of preprint friendly journals are Science, Nature, PNAS, Journal of Neuroscience, PLoS journals, Journal of Cell Biology, Genetics and EMBO. Notable exceptions that deal with preprints on a case by case basis are Cell Press journals. A partial list of preprint friendly journals can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_academic_journals_by_preprint_policy but the most up to date information will be on author instruction pages on invididual journal websites.
    • Preprints are indexed for Google Scholar, Pre-pubmed and search.Biopreprint to varying degrees. They are not indexed for MEDLINE and therefore are not searchable through Pubmed. Preprints can however be included on the My Bibliography page of My NCBI.
  3. For the scientific research community:

    • Immediate availibility of preprints speeds the communication and therefore the advancement of science.
    • If a culture of public critical discussion is established around preprints, this process could supplement the traditional closed peer review process.
    • The members of the scientific community most interested in a manuscript can discuss it before publication occurs, potentially identifying issues in advance to improve the quality of the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

What are potential drawbacks?

  • Scooping: Preprints may not be considered by all as establishing priority and readers may utilize ideas from your preprint in a publication prior to your manuscript being accepted for publication.
  • Journal Review: Journal reviewers may see negative comments on preprints as cause to reject manuscripts for publication.
  • Bad Science: Preprint servers may be flooded with incremental data in order to inappropriately establish priority.
  • Quality proxy: It is difficult to tell the quality of non peer-reviewed work outside of one's field without a journal's stamp of approval.

So, UP, what does that mean for you as a researcher just starting out? We have a few recommendations:

  • Preprints, on balance, provide benefits for people at the early stage of their career. These individuals may have no other items moving through the peer-review pipeline and need to show productivity quickly. For this reason, we'd encourage you to participate in the process for now, while keeping an eye on how these contributions are recognized.
  • When you submit a preprint, we'd encourage you to make it a solid one. Preprints become part of the scientific record, and all preprinted versions are maintained. Developing a reputation for limited rigor in research can be harmful in other situations, and we think that the permanence of preprints entail some risk in this regard. Be your own harsh peer reviewer, even with preprints.
  • Advertise your preprint. This is a case where you won't have the brand name of a journal promoting your work. Share your preprint in twitter, send it to your colleagues, and when you give a talk, highlight that the work is available. Invite people to comment, and take their feedback to heart. Feedback on preprints provides the opportunity to do additional experiments pointed out by the community if they further strengthen your contribution.

Finally, if you feel that you want to support preprints, there are a number of ways to get involved:

  • Many people are unaware preprints exist. Trainees can bring up the topic to their PIs. PIs can bring up the topic at faculty meetings or cross-department committee meetings.
  • Submitting a preprint or providing feedback to authors on preprints will promote their usage.
  • Mentioning preprints at the end of a seminar or conference presentation can increase visibility of this mechanism.
  • The Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology (ASAPbio) organization promotes preprints in the life sciences. One can volunteer to be an institutional ambassador for ASAPbio (http://asapbio.org/asapbio-ambassadors).
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Aug 03, 2016

What should I look for in my offer letter?

Dear LeafSpring,

What should I look for in my offer letter that I might otherwise miss?

Offer Up


Dear OU,

This is a tough one, because every offer letter is going to be different and each lab has its own unique set of needs. We'll detail some of the items that may be important for you to consider, with special focus on items that are easy to miss. We've divided this into your obligations, resources startup, and restrictions on your offer. The bottom line is that the only promises you can count on are the ones that are spelled out in writing -- either in the letter itself, university policies, or in emails with your department head. (Even if you get along great with your chair, your chair may step down 3 years into your position!)

Your Obligations

You are receiving an offer because the University wants you to accomplish something. What is that? Do they want you to be primarily a researcher, a teacher, a combination of these things, or something else? This would often be spelled out in the letter.

  • What are your teaching obligations? If you expect a certain teaching rate or certain course selections, get that in writing. Some of us negotiated the development of specific courses that we were enthusiastic about, for example.
  • What part of your salary are they covering or, conversely, what are you expected to bring in from other sources?
  • How do you actually get paid (9 months? 11 months? calendar year?) How does summer salary work - if you don't have money during the summer, do you simply forgo a paycheck, or does your 9 month salary get spread out over the year?
  • What moving expenses and other benefits are offered (e.g. house-hunting trip, home purchase program)? Also note that many places will cover your visits under recruiting expenses until the instant you accept, at which point visits go on your startup money.
  • When do you get evaluated, and what can happen then? Is contract renewal midway through your assistant professorship normal, or something to worry about?

Resources

An offer letter should include in your startup package the financial, equipment, and space resources that are needed to set up your research lab and give you a good foundation for student support, preliminary data and grant applications.

  • Is there a defined amount of square footage for your students and lab, even if all they need is desks in a room?
  • Will your office be furnished by the department? If not, expect to furnish it from your startup funding.
  • A startup may include teaching reductions during your initial years in the position. If there are course reductions, how is their timing determined? Some people prefer to teach more in their first year, when they're still setting up a lab and recruiting students, and then leave time for grant applications and paper writing in year 2 or 3; others prefer the opposite.
  • Does your lab space require remodeling to accomodate specialized equipment? Equipment you consider standard may not be.
  • What's the department or grad program funding situation for grad student RAs and TAs? In particular, will you be able to bring in grad students that aren't always on your startup money (because they can get TAs, or there is a training grant)?

Restrictions

  • Is there a time-line during which you are expected to spend certain components of your startup? Some of us have been able to negotiate extensions to startup, but generally departments expect you to spend your startup rather than sitting on it.
  • Does your startup expire?
  • If you are awarded early grant funding that supports items that your startup was meant to cover, do you get to rebudget that portion of your startup or does the university take it back?
  • What restrictions exist on how your startup can be spent? If there are no restrictions, is there an explicit statement to that effect? (Startup is frequently completely unbudgeted - do you have to stick to a budget?)

Additional Considerations

  • If you need access to shared resources (compute, microscopy, other facilities), is that access defined in writing?
  • If costs for shared resources are shouldered by someone other than you, is that committment in writing?
  • Is there an acknowledgement that software, data, etc generated using resources from your startup will be made available under open licenses? Who determines which licenses?
  • How do things like family leave and tenure delay time work both in policy (do you request it, does it happen automatically) and culturally (is it allowed, encouraged, discouraged)?

Beyond the Letter

  • Universities often assume that you will find things like family leave spelled out in their policies, which are frequently byzantine. Nonetheless administrators will assume that you know everything in them (and then be surprised when you ask about something that's covered on page 552 - "oh, that's in the policy book!"). We might suggest putting together a few hypotheticals ("I adopt a child; how much time off do I get? do I get a tenure extension? if my partner is employed by the same university, do we share our time off?") and running through the policy book to see what would happen in each case.
  • Health coverage can vary between universities. It can be very important and is often ignored by new faculty. Generally the only way to really find out what's up with health coverage is to talk to recent faculty (note that older faculty may be covered under other health care guidelines; universities, like everyone else, are constantly cutting benefits for new hires).
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Jul 29, 2016

Who contributes to LeafSpring?

A reader writes:

Dear LeafSpring,

What's the gender and racial balance among your contributors?

Name Removed


Dear NR,

Our contributors to date have been 60% male, 40% female and all of them are non-hispanic white.

We're in the process of adding contributors as the blog comes online, and will post an update once our core group is established.

Sincerely, LeafSpring

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Jul 25, 2016

How we hire.

A twitter conversation with Holly Bik recently led to a conversation around our lab's hiring practices. I took the opportunity to put together a blog post around our goals and procedures.

What's the goal of our postdoc interviews?

  1. Find the person who will be most effective in our lab.
  2. Help each interviewee determine whether or not our lab is the right environment for them to reach their goals.

What are the challenges with postdoc interviews?

  • There are many factors that determine whether or not someone will succeed, and an interview is often only one day. Most of us do not work somewhere that will allow us to host "auditions".
  • Unconscious biases (potential hiring for shared interests as opposed to effectiveness)
  • Candidates may feel pressure to say what you want to hear.
  • We (especially as new PIs) may feel pressure to say what the candidate wants to hear.

So how does our lab approach a postdoc interview?

Schedule

We schedule people for one day with the group, and one day in the city to find housing opportunities. The standard schedule will be something like:

Day ~ -60:

The candidate may have met me or a lab member at a conference and there was mutual interest in research opportunities and backgrounds. I've had a follow-up phone call with the candidate to discuss our lab's expectations for a postdoc and what the postdoc's expectations should be of us. I mention our lab's onboarding document, and the candidate can ask questions or file a pull request. After this, if the candidate is interested in a postdoc position in our group we invite them to join us for an interview. We make travel arrangements for the candidate (airfare, hotel).

Day 0:

The candidate arrives in the afternoon or evening and checks into the hotel.

Day 1:

I meet the candidate in the lobby of their hotel. We go to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. We discuss the process including structured interviews, etc and then head over to the lab to start the interviews.

The day consists of approximately five structured interviews during the day with lab members. At least two involve some sort of whiteboard programming activity because we view this as an absolutely essential skill to have for a successful postdoc of reasonable duration in our group.

At some point, usually at lunch, we gather with our lab members and other interested labs to hear the candidate give a talk. This talk is scheduled for a two hour window. We've asked the candidate to prepare a 45 minute talk, and with questions we've found that this usually takes all or most of the two hour time slot.

Happy Hour/Dinner - At the end of the day we take the candidate to a happy hour nearby to talk about the lab. I end up leaving early, and 2-3 lab members take the candidate to dinner to discuss the lab.

Day 2:

The candidate uses this day however they need to. He or she can wander around the city of Philadelphia, look at housing options, and maybe check out a local museum if time permits. Candidates will generally fly home in the evening.

Who interviews the candidate?

We aim to have each candidate interview with at least one person at each level within the lab. This means they will talk with an undergraduate, graduate, postdoc, programmer, and me. We want to make sure that people are respectful of our team members at all levels. This also gives our lab members experience interviewing so that they know what to expect in the future. When my lab was smaller and still growing, I asked colleagues for help with the interviews. I was able to bring in people from other labs with relevant expertise or an unrepresented level within my lab (e.g. bring in another lab’s postdoc before you hire postdocs).

What are the in person structured interviews?

We use structured interviews. Each member of the lab who will be interviewing selects 3-4 questions that touch on a distinct area that we view as important to the job. These questions are modeled on structured interview question examples from the VA. For each question, the interviewer pre-plans for ~4 follow-ups that dig into specifics of the answer. In the week leading up to the interview, interviewers share the questions that they plan to ask with each other. This allows our lab to make sure we touch on distinct areas. Interviewers tend to adapt and reuse their own questions across interviews.

How do we do a programming assessment?

We view this as an important skill for timely success in our lab. During at least two interview periods, which are scheduled for a longer period of time, the candidate is asked to whiteboard code to solve some problem. We look for some knowledge of syntax, the ability to design an approach to the problem, etc.

How do we score interviews?

For each question/programming assessment, the interviewer scores a candidate from one to five, and a three on our scale is a "good hire." Five is a "strong faculty candidate" answer. These scores can help to define what I emphasize for training when someone starts in our lab. Each interviewer also provides an overall score.

What happens after the interview?

I collect feedback from the lab. I talk with any interviewer who assigns the response to any question as a one or two to find out why that score was appropriate. We aim to make hire/no hire decisions on an individual (as opposed to competitive) basis. This can make conversations more difficult when we decide not to make an offer, but it avoids the pressure of feeling like we need to hire one of the candidates if none are good fits for our group. In total, this process generally takes about a week. Including getting the offer letter from HR, this means that we have about a two week turnaround for postdoc candidates after the interview. For staff positions that go through a different process within HR, the process can be slower.

Reading materials:


Please note the LeafSpring blog contains two types of posts: (1) advice/answers presented anonymously with consensus from the contributors -- these posts have author LeafSpring; and (2) information or opinions on relevant topics contributed by named authors. This post is of the latter type, and contributed by Casey Greene.

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Jul 20, 2016

How do I choose what opportunities to say yes to?

Dear Leafspring,

As a new faculty member, I am being offered the chance to get involved with many things, ranging from new collaborative projects to workshops at conferences to editorial board memberships. How do I choose what to say yes to and what to say no to?

Besieged With Opportunities


Dear BWO,

Congratulations on your faculty position!

This problem doesn't get any smaller as you go further in your career. You'll probably feel this acutely as a new faculty member. You suddenly have more autonomy (and research money) than you've had before, but you may not have established rules for when to say yes or no. There's a lot of literature around this topic, that goes under the heading of "strategy."

We have a lot of advice, but it's all motivated by two bigger considerations -

  1. What do you want to accomplish?

  2. What activities will contribute to your career positively?

The former is up to you to define, but the latter is common across most research-intensive faculty positions.

Something else to bring into the mix is that you will have less research time than you did as a graduate student or postdoc. Almost every faculty member we've talked to is surprised at how much of their time is taken up by meetings and travel.

Developing a strategy

If you're at a research intensive institution, you will be evaluated almost completely on your research output. The first level of evaluation is grants and pubs, but even if you have these, you need to establish yourself as a leading expert in your area of research. This means being visible beyond merely publishing and will involve some mixture of giving talks, serving on grant panels, organizing workshops/conferences, and/or joining editorial boards.

This is where you can leverage practicing open science; if you blog or tweet, or post open reviews, you can gain visibility in less traditional ways. Some of us get more invitations to speak because we're active on social media, for example. As long as you have something to say when you get there, it doesn't matter how you get invited.

Back to your question - when should you say yes or no? For each activity you should decide whether or not the opportunity fits with your goals. Always do your best to accept invitations in your core scientific research areas, of course!

If you're being invited to speak on "open science" and that's something that is central to how your lab operates, you may want to say yes. If, on the other hand, you're open but it's not a primary mission of your lab, you may be better off declining the opportunity. Michael Porter has written that "The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do". Every time you say "no" you're better defining your lab's strategy.

The most important consideration is that your strategy should make sense to you and help you make new discoveries, write clear grants, pubs, and achieve visibility -- especially within the community(s) you want to be identified with. At the end of the day, though, you won't be evaluated as much on how you became successful as on whether you are successful. A coherent strategy will help you do that.

How should you get there?

We can't give you a strategy. Your strategy will depend on the type of research you do and the other activities you're interested in. Instead, we can point you towards some resources that we've found particularly helpful:

Some of us have found it helpful to keep a "things I've said 'No' to" list. This can help to provide perspective on your visibility even at times when you feel invisible because you're declining opportunities to focus on other things (professional or personal). It can also counter the worry that "If I don't say yes now, I'll never get asked to do this again," which is almost never true.

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Jul 18, 2016

Ask LeafSpring

Hello, and welcome to the LeafSpring blog!

LeafSpring is an unhacker uncollective of open scientists who are on the tenure track in academia. (Some of us are tenured, some of us are not.) You'll see anonymized LeafSpring posts from the group, as well as posts from individuals.

We're using this space to discuss surviving and thriving in academia as an open scientist, with the goal of helping nudge academia towards more "open" practices.

We're starting this blog with a "Dear Abby" style column -- we're soliciting questions from current and aspiring professors on how to combine open science with a career in the research intensive professoriate. This includes how to use and highlight open science techniques to get jobs, win grants, gain tenure, and be both happy and successful.

Send your questions to leafspring.labcarpentry@gmail.com and we'll answer them here, appropriately anonymized.

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